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A History Of Super Bowl Halftime Shows: More Spectacle Than Controversy

2019 marks the 15-year anniversary of “Nipplegate”: At Super Bowl 38, Justin Timberlake’s performance of “Rock Your Body” with Janet Jackson rocked the nation, due to the infamous “wardrobe malfunction” that led to Justin exposing Janet’s breast. But until this year, the Super Bowl halftime show has mostly been about spectacle, not controversy.

In the years following “Nipplegate,” the NFL turned to “safer” classic rock artists such as The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Petty as halftime performers. Pop stars returned to the halftime show in 2011 with the Black Eyed Peas‘ performance, and until this year, everything’s been fine……with two exceptions.

During Madonna‘s 2012 performance, one of her guests, rapper M.I.A., flipped off the crowd. And in 2016, Beyoncé‘s was criticized for featuring back-up dancers dressed in outfits reminiscent of the Black Panther Party of the 1960s. 

But this Sunday, Maroon 5 and rappers Travis Scott and Big Boi take the stage under a cloud. Many feel that due to the controversy over the NFL’s treatment of Colin Kaepernick and other players who’ve knelt during the national anthem to protest police police brutality, the artists should not have agreed to perform.

A petition calling for them to drop out has attracted more than 110,000 signatures to date.

Both Maroon 5 and Scott have made large donations to, respectively, Big Brothers Big Sisters and a social justice initiative. And Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine has said that the performance will, in some way, acknowledge the controversy.

Surprisingly, the trend of having current big-name music stars perform during halftime only dates back to 1991, when New Kids on the Block performed. Before that, halftime was marching bands, older stars like Chubby Checker, or the G-rated vocal troupe Up with People.

As The New York Times put it, “It was decades before the NFL realized that the halftime show plays not to the stadium but to the camera.”

The modern Super Bowl halftime show really began in 1993 with Michael Jackson. The NFL secured the superstar by donating $100,000 to his Heal the World Foundation. His performance at Super Bowl 27 brought in huge ratings, so in the years that followed, it was all stars and all spectacle all the time.

Here’s a reminder of who’s played Super Bowl halftime shows in the modern era:

1991 — New Kids on the Block
1992 — Gloria Estefan
1993 — Michael Jackson, performing with 3,500 children
1994 — Country stars Clint Black, Tanya Tucker, Travis Tritt, Wynonna, and Naomi Judd
1995 — Patti LaBelle, Miami Sound Machine & Tony Bennett
1996 — Diana Ross
1997 — ZZ Top, James Brown, the Blues Brothers featuring Dan Aykroyd, John Goodman, Jim Belushi
1998 — Boyz II Men, Smokey Robinson, Martha Reeves, the Temptations, Queen Latifah
1999 — Stevie Wonder, Gloria Estefan, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
2000 — Phil Collins, Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, Toni Braxton
2001 — Aerosmith, ‘N Sync, Britney Spears, Nelly, Mary J. Blige
2002 — U2
2003 — Shania Twain, No Doubt, Sting
2004 — Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Nelly, Kid Rock, P. Diddy
2005 — Paul McCartney
2006 — The Rolling Stones
2007 — Prince
2008 — Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
2009 — Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
2010 — The Who
2011 — Black Eyed Peas
2012 — Madonna
2013 — Beyonce (and Destiny’s Child, briefly)
2014 — Bruno Mars feat. Red Hot Chili Peppers
2015 — Katy Perry, Lenny Kravitz & Missy Elliott
2016 — Coldplay, Beyonce and Bruno Mars
2017 — Lady Gaga
2018 — Justin Timberlake
2019 — Maroon 5, Travis Scott, Big Boi

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